Dear Phil Phriends,
This topic hasn't hit the pages yet, but it will soon be a hot topic for discussion, so I'll just kick it off.
As some on this list already know, I first went to Philmont in 1959 at age fourteen. That experience changed my life forever. I will be returning as an advisor this July. My fifteen year old daughter will also be on that trek. Not in my wildest dreams can I say that when I stood atop Clear Creak Mountain or Trail Peak back then did I even dream that I would get to come back, much less with my daughter. After all Philmont was a Boy Scout Ranch.
Times do change don't they? Thank goodness!
And to further illustrate this change, let me present boot selection.
In 1959, the only boots available could be called construction boots today. The recommended ones laced to the toe and were about ten inches tall. The reason for that recommendation was you could open them up more to dry them out at the end of the day, but they looked dorky to my fourteen year old eyes. And that is not what the other Scouts and Scouters I knew wore.
Sock selection was cotton or scratchy wool "athletic socks". That was all.
My dad took me to the local G. I. Surplus store where brandishing some newly purchased white wool socks I found a pair of crepe soled, moccasin toed boots about ten inches tall and that is what I wore to Philmont. They worked well and the fact that I thought the lace to the toe model looked too dorky did not hamper my boots drying out each evening from the many stream crossings on the Rayado. We simply waded right across back then, no bridges or rock stepping stones..
For the last twenty years I have been wearing a pair of Danner boots with leather linings and Vibram Montagna soles. They still have many miles left on them, but I do not want to have their last blowout on the PhilTrail. Enter the boot search.
I detest mail order boot fitting. I had to do that for some winter weight hunting boots a few years ago and you pay as much return postage getting the right size as you do for the boots.
Plus the fact that my daughter needed a new pair also lent credence to taking a trip.
Today's boot selection is much more complex than it was in 1959.
We made the two hour trip to REI in Houston, Texas specifically to be fitted with new backpacking boots. Notice I did not say hiking boots. There is a difference. Hiking boots will work just fine on the PhilTrail, but I wanted the added ankle support and heavier inner soles. That is not available in lower priced trail hiking boots.
I nice discussion via email with Signe Rogers aka HikinMama on this list persuaded me to switch from my old tried and true sock combination of a thin polypro liner and thick ragg wool sock that I have been using for almost thirty years now to a more modern version.
We choose to use the new Smart Wool socks without a liner. A liner negates the advantage of the Smart Wool concept.
So with new socks in hand, we sat down to select new boots. The boot specialist there was a well informed young man. He knew his stock very well. He suggested adn I agreed for him to bring every boot he had in our size that met the criteria and we would narrow it down step by step. We had all day. I looked at the pricetags to see if I needed to up the max on my Visa and then we got after it. I told Allison to not look at the price tag during selection because that was not a criteria issue she needed to consider. I had already planned for that. In boots, you don't get what you don't pay for. You can however, pay for what you don't get, but not at REI. Case closed.
What he brought out was backpacking boots, not hiking boots. Five pair in Allison's size and four pair in my size. Some four hours later we each had selected our PhilBoots. It was pretty easy to cull out the first two pair. They just did not feel right, whatever right is. The differences between the last two pairs of boots was a different matter. That was not easy. I ended up taking notes. I wrote down the plusses and minuses of each which were about equal. In the end I went with the ones that simply felt more comfortable on my foot. Allison did the same.
Some of the boots were Gore Tex. Some were not. I am not totally against Gore Tex in boots, I own some, but I did not let that be a factor in the selection.
I ended up selecting a pair of Aslo AFX 535 V non Gore Tex and Allison selected a pair of Vasque Sundowner 7949 with Gore Tex. As is always the case, her boots cost $45.00 more than mine did. Children are just expensive, but well worth it. Anyway, she will live longer than me adn might get full use from her boots. At fifty-seven years old, I'll never get to wear these new ones out. Good boots last that long.
We bought three pairs of Smartwool Expedition Trekking socks each and I plan on putting on clean socks in the morning, changing them at noon and again the next morning and continuing the rotation. This is an old Army trick that I learned during the Vietnam war and it works for me. Today I work a twelve hour shift on my feet constantly and I change socks AND shoes at midday every day of the year. Treating your feet to that is like.......well, let me just say it is really nice!
Some may wonder what the difference between hiking boots and backpacking boots is. Beside a cool hundred dollars and more stiffness and better ankle support, let me just summarize it this way. With hiking boots you can feel what you step on through the soles. With backpacking boots you cannot. That does make a difference.
Can hiking boots be used successfully at Philmont? Yes, they can and are every summer by thousands. Some use tennis shoes. In 1959 one of the boys I went with wore what were then called engineer boots and today are called motorcycle boots. Slip on twelve inch tall with a leather buckle strap across the instep. He had no problem at all. Billy had worn them every day of his life so why quit something that works.
I can only think of one reason. There might just be a better mousetrap.
Eagle Class of 1959
Phirst Philmont Ptrek 1959
Philmont bound in July 2002
My latest adventure was yesterday
Today is not over yet!
Four quick boot thoughts.
First, I think you wound up with some very nice boots. I wore ASOLOs my second summer Rangering at Philmont in 1984, and they were wonderful! I wore them back to Philmont 9 years later and they did great. In fact, I finally retired only a year or so ago, and what did I replace them with, Gore-tex Vasque Sundowners, which have worked well thus far.
Second, and it's certainly a matter of personal preference, I must respectfully disagree with your sock decision. I have worn Smart wools, and like them very much. But I do believe that a liner inside them helps. This arrangement still wicks moisture, and does more to cut down on friction for me. I would suggest that you try the heavier expedition weight socks alone, and compare that to a combination of polypro liners and lighter weight Smart wools (my preferred arrangement). See what works for you.
Third, using the heavier (backpacking) boot is probably a good idea given the rocky terrain, but be sure to bring along some lightweight breathable shoes for in camp. Your dogs will really appreciate the chance to breathe! ;-)
Lastly, I hope your daughter's feet have stopped growing! Otherwise you may have jumped the gun a bit. Most folks suggest buying new boots in March before the trip and wearing them everywhere from then on to break them in. Less chance of outgrowing that way.
Scoutmaster, Troop 134 - Ashland, MO
Philmont Trekker 1978
Philmont Ranger 1982 & 1984
Philmont Advisor 1993
Philmont Hopeful 2003
I wanna go back to Philmont!
Nice write up John. I can relate, having gone through the same thing with my son last month.
However, I did not plan on buying a new pair for myself as well. I tried out every one he was trying out to be assure of the quality.
I now have a new pair that we're breaking in.
Couple of insights to add to your selection criteria. I was always one to use a simple type of low hiking/scrambling shoes even for backpacking. Born with strong ankles I guess. However, my son just hit his growth spurt and I remember my brother blowing out both his ankles during that period. So our selection ruled out lightweight hiking shoes and moved to backpacking boots.
Several other things to consider when looking at the boots is the "all leather" and boots with a combination of leather and cloth uppers. Also is the weight.
The key factors I looked for was:
5) Water proof
Comfort is a personal thing. I have tried the ordering of a quality boot from the catalogue. Had to send it back because of a flaw in the inside of the boot. You need to go to the store and try them out. No other method works. Luckily there is an REI store only 20 miles away. The same catalogue boots are there, more expensive, but if it has a flaw you find it right away.
Weight is an obvious thing. Every ounce really counts when its attached to your foot. That's why I usually only use hiking shoes. Consider the combo boot with a plastic shank and not a steal shank.
Breathability is what will keep your foot from being a statistic on the trail. Sock choice is important, but I found that over the years since Gore-Tex has been available I will stick to Gore-Tex and good sock choice.
Durability means leather. However, even leather gets torn up a lot when scrambling over rocks and desert. Also look to see if the boot can be resoled. If you hike more than you backpack you will probably wear out the soles first. A $200 boot can be very expensive to buy over and over.
Water proof or water resistant is important. I hate to burst your bubble for the folks out there who think using that silicone spray on stuff works. It is only good for about the first two days. Then it wears off. Even if your just walking through tall grass fields. Another advantage to leather and Gore-Tex.
Here is one more thing to mention that I see a lot. People do not know how to lace up a boot. If you're one of those who constantly keeps having your laces untie then try this: When you lace up the last 2 or 3 hook eyelets (depends on your boot), run the lace over the top and around the bottom of the hook before you cross it over to the next one. Most people do it from the bottom to top. Top to bottom makes it wrap around the hook and it will not loosen up as the day goes on or when you get them wet.
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